The Air Force has bowed to administration pressure and dropped a policy requiring a secrecy pledge from all employes, including thousands without access to secrets, an Air Force spokesman said yesterday.
Air Force headquarters sent a message Friday directing all field units to stop asking employes who lack security clearances to sign the administration's new pledge, according to a copy of the message obtained by United Press International.
The Air Force has bucked administration policy since July 1986 by requiring all military members, civilian employes and reservists to agree not to release sensitive information, Air Force officials said. The administration regulation forbids federal agencies from soliciting pledges from employes without security clearances.
More than 600,000 Air Force employes do not have security clearances and therefore have no access to classified data, but the pledge requires them to promise not to release "classified" or "classifiable" information.
David Whitman, a security aide to Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, said his office was concerned that the Air Force's aggressive approach to ineligible employes would intensify criticism of the pledge from some members of Congress and administration officials.
Whitman said Air Force security officials initially resisted any change in policy, even after they were rebuked in a June 11 message from his office. He said they capitulated once the secretary of the Air Force's office "weighed in" along with Weinberger's staff.
Steven Garfinckel of the Information Security Oversight Office, which monitors administration use of the pledge, also chided the Air Force for its practices, officials said.
The Standard Form 189 is being submitted to 2.4 million federal employes, 90 percent of whom work for the Defense Department. About 660,000 have yet to sign the form, nearly all of them from the Navy and Air Force. They have been asked to sign by Dec. 31.
The administration tried to blunt criticism when it announced Aug. 21 that, pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the secrecy pledge, it would stop withdrawing security clearances from employes who refuse to sign the form. It said it also would temporarily reinstate clearances that have been revoked.
Agencies have been instructed, however, to continue soliciting employes' signatures.
The Air Force message asking units to stop requiring the pledge of employes without clearances also announced the abandonment of a policy stating that "reluctance to sign . . . will be considered a lack of personal commitment to protect classified information."
Whitman and Garfinckel said they expected secrecy forms already signed by at least 150,000 Air Force employes without security clearances would become "null and void."